The lack of depth at WR claims being hurled at the Rams annoy me. Compared to the other teams Al Saunders' has worked for, other than the Rams, the Rams have a better #1 WR in Torry Holt and a more than capable #2 WR in Drew Bennett. By the way, I think Bennett will be better served not working out of the slot as much. The third spot on depth chart at WR is still up for grabs, but two of the candidates, Dante Hall and Reche Caldwell, have played WR at the third spot or below on the depth chart for Saunders before.
I also wondered what to expect from the Rams wide receivers this season, playing in a new offense. The chart below contains the receptions, yards, and TDs for the first three wide outs of each Saunders-led offense. Now, worth noting is that Saunders was not the OC in 1999; Martz was, and still ran the offense in 2000 as head coach bu elevated Saunders to a position more akin to that of an OC. Also, tight ends have played huge roles under Al Saunders systems, as you may have heard, and with the receiver-poor teams he's coached the TE often led the team in receiving. To note that here, I've put one asterisk (*) next to the season if the TE led the team in receptions and a double asterisk (**) next to the season is the TE led in receptions and receiving yards. I left out the running back receiving totals, but suffice it to say that the running backs played big roles in each season, something we can expect Steven Jackson to do this year, once he finally signs a contract. Asterisks next to a players' stats indicate that it was a rookie season. For the '02 Chiefs that was Marc Boerigter and for the '99 Rams it was none other than Torry Holt.
|Year||WR 1||WR 2||WR 3|
Needless to say, I think claims about the Rams being understaffed at WR are overstated. As you can see, the TE plays a role much more aligned with that of a WR in Saunders' system. McMichael may not put up Tony Gonzalez numbers, but he's sure bet for 50 or more receptions, maybe even enough catches to put him right behind Holt on this season's team leader board. Don't be surprised if Steven Jackson round out the teams top three in receptions and yards too.
Holt's had 90 or more receptions every year since 2001, even when he missed two games in 2005. I doubt anyone on the team not named Torry Holt leads the Rams in receptions and receiving yards, but with McMichael and Jackson both set to see plenty of action, Holt might not top 90 catches this season. Still, Saunders' knows what kind of weapon he has in Holt, and isn't going to relegate him to Eddie Kennison status.
Bennett and the #3 wide receiver, whoever that turns out to be, won't see those Martz-ian like numebrs for the second and third WRs. There just won't be that many balls to go around with Holt, Jackson and McMichael eating up the bulk of the passing plays. That's good news, because with teams keyed in on those three, Bennett and the third WR should have increased effectiveness by being the open man on multiple receiver sets or plays using the big three as a foil to create mismatches for the another WR, i.e. plays designed to put a speedy slot guy like Avery behind the defense. Bennett's a much better fit as a #2. In 2004, his career year, he played second fiddle to Derrick Mason.
Now, if Holt misses time, that means more emphasis on Jackson and McMichael. That would hurt the Rams, but I don't think it would be debilitating. Yes, it means more work for Bennett and either Hall or one of the others moving up to the #2 spot. However, McMichael essentially becomes the #1 WR, a la Gonzalez or Cooley, in that situtation.
If the Rams were to lose McMichael, Holt's role is elevated along with Bennett, who'll be picking up more of the workload in the passing game. I still think he can handle it if he's healthy and the rest of the offense isn't suffering like last season.
Of the big three - Jackson, Holt and McMichael - losing Jackson would hurt the most because that would create a huge imbalance between the rush and passing game. And the question marks on the depth chart behind Jackson are far bigger than the question marks on the depth chart behind Holt.
Don't get me wrong, losing any of those guys would hurt the team, especially with the schedule we've got. But, this looks like a pretty well balanced attack, and I think that makes concerns about depth at WR somewhat overstated.